Mar. 28, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
Court junks indictment in Laughlin riot
Attorneys unsure of ruling's effect on motorcycle gang case
By ED VOGEL
REVIEW-JOURNAL CAPITAL BUREAU
Videotape shows part of a deadly brawl between rival motorcycle gang members in Laughlin in 2002.
Review-Journal file photo.
CARSON CITY -- The Nevada Supreme Court on a 7-0 vote threw out a murder indictment Monday brought against 14 members of the Hells Angels and Mongols motorcycle gangs involved in the 2002 Laughlin riot in which three gang members died.
Justices ruled that some lesser indictments such as assault and aiding and abetting filed against the motorcyclists can stand. But in many cases, the Clark County district attorney's office must go back to District Court and rewrite the indictments to state standards.
Both sides were unclear what the effect of the ruling would be.
District Attorney David Roger said two other murder indictments and several other counts still stand.
"Many charges still stand," he said. "I haven't had a chance to review the decision yet, but we will go back and redraft portions of the indictments as ordered by the court. They are the final word."
Las Vegas lawyer Tom Pitaro, who represents several Hells Angels, said the court threw out most of the conspiracy charges filed against the motorcyclists.
Because the charges were thrown out, Pitaro said, the district attorney's office cannot try any Hells Angels on charges they conspired to kill other Hells Angels. He said only Mongol Alexander Alcantar can be charged with two Hells Angels deaths.
Prosecutors have alleged in previous court hearings that Alcantar bears the most culpability because he was the triggerman in two of the deaths.
"I am not clear yet on a lot of what the court did," Pitaro said. "But from the Hells Angels perspective, I am very, very happy."
In tossing the murder charge brought against all 14 defendants, the court said the indictment does not make clear who committed the killing of Mongol Salvador Barrera.
"The count is unique among the three murder counts because it does not identify any specific defendant as having committed the offense," the justices said.
Barrera, 43, was stabbed to death in a riot on April 27, 2002, inside Harrah's during Laughlin's annual River Run. Shot to death in the riot were Hells Angels members Jeramie Bell, 27, and Robert Tumelty, 50.
"The count (concerning Barrera's slaying) lumps all of the defendants together and does not allege any facts differentiating the conduct of any of the defendants who were members of the respective groups," the court said in its opinion.
Because the indictment is not "sufficiently clear, definite and concise as to enable the defendants to properly defend against the accusation," the court ordered it stricken.
In a hearing before the court in November, Pitaro said the entire indictment was written in a way that would make it appear the Mongols and Hells Angles seemingly had worked together to kill and injure their own gang members.
In comparing the indictment with acceptable standards, he termed it "a grade-school drawing versus Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel."
Justices also threw out an indictment that charged the 14 motorcyclists conspired together to commit battery and breaches of the peace.
The court said prosecutors "failed to present slight or marginal evidence" that any agreement existed between all members of the two gangs. The court said the indictment must be taken to District Court and rewritten to state standards.
In the November hearing, Deputy Clark County Deputy District Attorney William Kephart said agreements exist among members of each gang that they must fight at any time.
"It is an ongoing conspiracy known by their members," he said in the court hearing.
Kephart could not be reached for comment late Monday.
But lawyer Dominic Gentile, who represented a Mongol defendant, said at the hearing the two gangs could not so much agree on the day of the week.
The court said that in many of the indictment counts, all 14 defendants were accused of assaulting "named victims and other unidentified human beings." Justices questioned how a grand jury could have issued indictments concerning acts against "unidentified human beings."
"Because no known victim testified what acts the defendants committed that placed him or her in reasonable apprehension of immediate bodily harm, we are concerned about what evidence, if any, the state presented to support these counts," justices wrote.
In making the decision to drop some charges now and order others rewritten, the Supreme Court said it acted to prevent a "considerable waste of judicial resources."
"The trial will undoubtedly be prolonged and costly to the state and defendants," the justices wrote. "Under these circumstances, judicial economy favors our intervention at this state of the proceedings to prevent a prolonged trial on any invalid charges, especially where a remand and retrial would likely be required on appeal from any resulting judgment of conviction."
The decision does not affect a similar federal court case involving 44 Hells Angels and Mongol members in connection with the Laughlin riot.
That case includes racketeering and firearms charges but does not include murder charges. Some of the defendants facing federal charges were indicted in the state case as well.
The Hells Angels named in the initial state indictment were Sohn Regas, Calvin Schaefer, Dale Leedom, Rodney Cox, Maurice "Pete" Eunice, James Hannigan, Raymond Foakes and Frederick Donahue. Mongols indicted were Roger Finney, Kenneth Dysart, Pedro Martinez Jr., Victor Ramirez, Benjamin Leyva and Alcantar.
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